Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Toulouse-Lautrec's Iconic Wioks Coming to the Phillips Collection

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jane Avril, 1893. Private Collection

In a special exhibition opening on February 4 in our nation's capital, The Phillips Collection presents an extraordinary selection of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s iconic and rare printed works from nearly the entire period of his lithographic career (1891–1899). An inaugural collaboration with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époque assembles, for the first time in the United States, close to 100 defining images of late-19th-century Montmartre, drawn from one of the leading collections of prints and posters by Toulouse-Lautrec.

The son of a wealthy noble family from Albi, France, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901) is best known for capturing the heart of Parisian nightlife in dynamic cabaret and dance hall scenes inspired by the city’s burgeoning entertainment district. After training with academic painters in Paris, he established a studio in bohemian Montmartre and was regularly seen at lively hot spots like the Chat Noir, the Mirliton, and the Moulin Rouge. His impressions of these local amusements fashioned a portrait of modern life. 

Toulouse-Lautrec’s arrival in Paris also coincided with both revival and innovation in the technology of color lithography. The sheer scale of the posters plastered around the city transformed Paris into an open air exhibition, while limited-edition lithographs and print albums designed for the home catered to collectors. This exhibition highlights Toulouse-Lautrec’s embrace of printmaking and his experiments with the medium that revolutionized the field. 

“I am delighted for the Phillips to exhibit such a rich collection of printed works by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who forever changed and shaped the art of lithography,” said Director Dorothy Kosinski. “This is a rare opportunity to see such a large collection that captures a defining moment in the artist’s printmaking career on view in the United States.”

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1893 Jane Avril. Private Collection
Included in the special exhibition at the Phillips is Toulouse-Lautrec’s first lithograph, the poster Moulin Rouge, La Goulue (1891), which made him an overnight success. Produced in some 3,000 impressions, the poster’s massive scale, fragmented forms, compressed pictorial space, and range of colors broke new ground.

By presenting this significant work alongside a unique trial proof in black and white, the exhibition provides a glimpse into the artist’s highly involved printmaking process. Other special features on view include never-before-published trial proofs, unique images, and rare prints displayed with richly colored final impressions.

Many of the posters were commissioned by famous performers like Jane Avril, May Belfort, Aristide Bruant, and May Milton. These personalities, among others, are brought to life through Toulouse-Lautrec’s perceptive skills of observation and caricature. By maximizing the impact of just a few details, their celebrity was immortalized in these masterful works that caught the public’s attention.

“This show is special because it not only features an impressive number of familiar images, but by displaying trial proofs, it also offers visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the genius of Toulouse-Lautrec’s printmaking process.” said Renée Maurer, Associate Curator at the Phillips.

“Having attracted 145,000 visitors to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the exhibition Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époque was a great success, one that I hope our partners from The Phillips Collection will also enjoy in this first collaboration, thanks to an exceptional collection,” said Nathalie Bondil,  Director General and Chief Curator at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. “The Paris of the belle époque is paraded before our eyes. What a privilege to be able to exhibit these rarely shown unique posters by Toulouse-Lautrec.”

Louis Anquetin, Inside Bruant's Mirliton 1886-1887. Private Collection

The exhibition also includes additional works by Toulouse-Lautrec’s contemporaries, such as Théophile Alexandre Steinlen’s famous poster Tournée du Chat Noir (1896) and Louis Anquetin’s never-before-exhibited painting Inside Bruant’s Mirliton (1886–1887). Once considered lost, with only preliminary drawings as evidence of its existence, Anquetin’s large painting invites viewers inside Aristide Bruant’s lively cabaret Mirliton, where Toulouse-Lautrec, Bruant, and Émile Bernard watch entertainer La Goulue perform. 

Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époque is on display at the Phillips February 4 through April 30, 2017. 

While the exhibition is on view, several public programs are planned to further celebrate Toulouse-Lautrec, his printmaking, and the art and culture of Montmartre. Along with Phillips after 5, film screenings, workshops, and events inspired by Parisian nightlife, the Phillips invites visitors to further engage through planned lectures featuring curators from both institutions, gallery talks facilitated by local artists, and open conversations on exhibition related topics led by influential thought leaders. For more information about the events planned throughout the spring, please visit www.phillipscollection.org/events.

During his lifetime, museum founder Duncan Phillips acquired four works on paper by Toulouse-Lautrec. His first purchase made in 1927 was the lithograph Miss May Belfort (grande planche) (1895). In 1939, Phillips presented the museum’s only previous exhibition of Toulouse-Lautrec’s art, containing 55 works (drawings, prints, and paintings) sourced from the Art Institute of Chicago and private collections.

Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époque marks the first solo showing of the artist’s work at the Phillips in nearly 80 years. As a complement to the exhibition, an installation of work by Toulouse-Lautrec’s contemporaries will be on view in nearby permanent collection galleries.

The Phillips Collection is located at 1600 21st NW | Washington, DC 20009. For more information, phone 202.387.2151

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